Monday, April 30, 2018

Card Show Hauling

One of the things I love about connecting with the larger card collecting community is seeing how different things are in other parts of the country.  When I lived in Ohio, there were tons of other dime box diggers like myself.  Or seeing Dimebox Nick's flea market hauls of cards when most of the flea markets in my area are devoid of cards.  While we all collect differently, and the internet has certainly changed how we collect, we're still ultimately a product of our cardboard environment.

And it's safe to say the ecosystem around the Pittsburgh area is badly imbalanced.  In my high school years, mall shows were a pretty regular occurrence across the region, with at least three different promoters setting up shows.  I didn't mind driving 45 minutes across the city to go to a show, because it typically meant there would be dealers who only did shows in that part of town.  I could pretty safely bet on a show every month or so, and there was usually a pretty good range of cards to dig through.  Dime boxes.  Inserts and parallels from Pirates.  And if I was lucky, a seller with discount autos/game used.
Times change, the hobby changes, and lives change.  Many of my favorite dealers have gotten out of the hobby altogether.  The shows are less frequent.  And when shows do happen, you're just as likely to see a guy with a whole table of overpriced baseballs, or video games, or action figures than cardboard.  Don't get me wrong.  I've picked up the odd nostalgic N64 game at a card show, or an action figure or McFarlane here or there.  But when the non-cardboard outnumbers the cardboard, it makes you rethink whether it's really even a card show.
Saturday was the day of the one-day show I mentioned earlier in the month.  I like one day shows because it draws a different crowd of seller.  While you have to have a decent inventory to commit to paying for 3 days worth of tables and still hope to make a profit, a one day show has a cheaper entry point.  You get guys who collect, but just want to unload some extra cards for cash.  Or the occasional collector who is downsizing or getting out of collecting.  Or even some dealers who just don't want to commit their whole weekend to sit behind a table in a mall.

As an added bonus, the show was literally right down the street from me.  I had to make a total of three turns from my driveway to the parking lot.  It was a small show in a  I'm not sure what to even call it.  It wasn't really a multipurpose room.  Just a small hall maybe 20X50 that I assume is used for spaghetti dinners or bingo or the like.  There were a total of six dealers, two of whom I had seen just a couple weeks earlier at the other one day show.
But hey, lemonade.  I made a very, very quick walkthrough.  It wasn't promising.  I stopped by the dealer who I bought off at the last show.  We've talked a few times now and have built up some rapport.  I'm probably the guy who buys the stuff he knows nobody else will want.  So I figured it was as good a time as any to see what he would do on a few 2001 Donruss cards that I've had my eye on for a few shows.  2001 Donruss is tough to find, and while I know I'll never complete a master set I'm always happy to buy as many cards from the set as I can get my hands on.

The sticker price on the four cards was $17, he offered $10, and I countered at $7.  The Griffey DK is a card I've wanted since 2001, so I was happy with the deal.

There were a few other lower numbered parallels from the set that I may have to come back to next time I see him.  But with the big annual Pittsburgh show in a couple weeks and plans to spend at least a day or two in Cleveland for the National, I was trying to be pretty selective on my purchases.
The hobby comes and goes in cycles.  But it's amazing to me how tough high numbered cards can be to find.  In the hit driven era, I guess most people assume some card numbered to 2000 from 17 years ago isn't worth much or won't have a buyer.  It makes it that much better when I'm able to scoop up a card I need.  But it sure is frustrating to know that probably an entire collection's worth of cards I want are wasting away in someone's basement or storage unit.
 My best stop of the day was probably to a dealer who I've been buying from since the good ole days of mall shows.  He had a 7/$1 box that was loaded with 90's inserts, parallels, Artists Proofs, etc that I still get excited over to this day.  The 7/$1 box is gone, but he had plenty of quality on the one small table he had set up. 

He had a box of autographs for $1 each.  Most of the cards were known easy TTM signers or late 90's Best autos of guys who never made much impact.  But I was able to find a couple cards that seemed worth the buck.
 And my luck held true with some under appreciated parallels.  The cards were individually priced, but in true 90's dealer fashion were reminiscent of reading a Beckett circa 1992.  Some were $.35.  Others $.40 or .50.  On the odd occasion, a Clemente or Lemieux would top over $1.
 I was insanely excited when I came across this reverse negative parallel from 2002 UD Authentics.  It's such an under rated product, in my opinion.  It was a really fun break at the time, and the merits and iconic status of the 1989 set can be debated for ages.  But the cards are damn hard to find, and my team set is still incomplete.  The reverse negatives were 1/box, and can be easily overlooked.  Aside from the photo, they're identical to base cards.  So for $.35, yes please.
 Speaking of which, when can you get a Topps Black card for $.35?  Again, it was too good to pass up.  And the black jersey on black border just looks sooooo nice.
 My favorite card of the day was this Amos Zereoue MVP redemption card.  I can't remember if there was an announced print run for the MVP promos from 1999, but the cards are tough to come by.  And since Famous Amos was both a Steeler and a Mountaineer he's one of my favorite player collections. 
 I also snagged some nice dimebox finds, including a stack of 1993 Diamond Kings.  The 93 design and art is probably my favorite of the entire DK run that Dick Perez did.
 The rest of the dealers were pretty unexciting.  I did buy Willie Stargell and Francisco Cervelli bobbleheads off a guy who was downsizing his bobble collection.  I apparently had gotten there a little after he had sold a bunch of minor league bobbles that I probably needed, so that was disappointing.

Buying from half the dealers at the show seemed like a decent haul, and all for under $35.
But I miss the regular interactions of card shows.  Seeing dealers you know, finding new cards you've been searching for or ones you never knew you wanted.  So many of the larger shows have become vintage heavy.  I don't really need to see 7 dealers all selling the same cards.  While I know some collectors are particular with condition or centering, I'm going to buy the copy that's cheapest.  Period.  And once I have a copy, no matter how well worn, I'm not likely to actively look for another. 

But with two majors shows coming up, I'm hoping I'll continue finding some new cards for the collection.  What's the cardboard pulse like in your area?  Are card shows still going strong?  It's always interesting to see how much variety there is across the country.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

An American Dream

One of the amazing things about sports is the way that memories become like nesting dolls, one contained within another.  There's the story of the game - the late inning homer, the big putt, the perfect thrown pass.  But then there's our story.  Who we watched it with.  Where we were when we heard the call.  The memories WE make in our own lives over a sport.

Even when the outcome is predetermined.

When I saw the news earlier this morning that former WWF champion Bruno Sammartino passed away, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Bruno is a Pittsburgh icon, not to mention one of the most well known wrestlers of all time.  But my connection goes far, far deeper than that.  Bruno's story is intertwined with my own, both close yet distant.  Bruno Sammartino came to the States in 1950 at age 15, where his father had already been since before the war.  In 1928, my grandfather came to Pittsburgh from Italy.  He was 17 years old, made the long journey by boat alone before joining his father, who had been here for a few years, in a dusty mill town outside Pittsburgh.

Before the days of selling out Madison Square Garden, Sammartino got his start on a small local wrestling show in Pittsburgh called Studio Wrestling.  The way my dad tells it, it was must watch tv for my grandparents, dad, and uncles.  It was about more than just wins and losses, flips and punches.  My grandfather worked construction, hard, backbreaking work that was supposed to lead to a better life than what was possible in the Old Country.  The neighborhood was full of Italian families, mostly from the same cluster of towns in Apulia on the eastern coast of Italy.  It's the little spur above the heel of the boot jutting out into the Adriatic sea.

Like my grandfather, many of the immigrants came to the States speaking little or no English.  They took jobs in the nearby mill or working construction, the wave of Italians instantly becoming the low man on the totem pole.  My dad insists he and his three brothers grew up wanting for nothing.  But life was hard, and pleasures were simple.  My Nana loved bingo.  My dad and his brothers played ball in the local fields, and whenever possible to go see the wrestling cards.

Bruno Sammartino wasn't just the main attraction.  Bruno was the embodiment of the hopes and dreams that brought them to America.  The American dream of opportunity.  The boy from the Old Country making good.  His success was, indirectly, their success. 

Thirty years later, I made drives with my dad to the old neighborhood.  I was young - 4 or 5.  Most of the steel mills were long gone, though you could still see the impressive pillars of smoke rising from the mill near my grandparents' house.  The neighborhood had changed.  The main drag was filled with boarded up storefronts, gates over the windows.  My grandfather had had a stroke a year or two earlier, before I could remember.  He had lost the ability to speak or have much movement.  My only memories of him are feeding him cheese curls. 

They didn't have the money for proper medical care, so the three brothers took turns stopping by once or twice a day to check in on their parents.  They were always in the living room at the back of the house, my pap in a chair and nana sitting on the couch.  The only things I ever remember being on tv was televised mass or wrestling.  Bruno Sammartino had long since retired, but I think the familiarity was comforting for them.

I remember being plopped in front of the tv with the KFC we always brought for them while my dad would probably be busy doing what they needed and cleaning up the house.  And that's where I fell in love with professional wrestling, or studio wrestling as it would always be for Nana.  I lost interest in my teenage years until I started watching again over the last couple years, but growing up all those hours watching wrestling with my grandparents made me a huge fan.

So for me too Bruno Sammartino meant something more than just a wrestling champion.  He was indirectly my connection to grandparents I never knew as well as I'd like.  And for a generation of Italian-American Pittsburghers he was the shining example of what the American Dream could bring them.  It makes me appreciate the hardship and sacrifices my family faced so that I can have a relatively comfortable life.  And even though he's gone, Bruno will always be my world champ.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Taking on the Roster

I wanted to show off the other little custom project I'm working on this season.  I'm a little surprised it's taken me so long to act on the idea.  I've kicked around the idea of creating a team set for a few years, and even actually made most of the cards for one a few years back.

To some extent, it's a no brainer.  I was so excited for Topps Total and Upper Deck 40-Man.  I loved the idea of getting into all the nooks and crannies of the team's roster.  As I was working through some custom designs for what ultimately became my #DocumentaryNOW project, I ended up with a couple different designs I liked, but didn't want to use for that project.

For DocumentaryNOW, I liked the idea of using a design that had a more vintage feel.  But for a living team set?  I thought a more modern looking design was a better fit.

I guess I took some cues from two of my favorite Donruss sets here - 1990 and 1991 Donruss.  I'm going to slowly work my way through this team set, trying to find the best possible photo for each player.  Some, like the Polanco below, might get recycled from DocumentaryNOW.  But how cool is a play at the plate in the SNOW?  That's not something you see on a card every day.

 Even just taking my initial pass through the set, it's already clear that relievers are going to be trouble.  They don't get photographed much, and when they do the photos tend to be shots that are a better fit for a horizontal card.  My plans are to keep this set all vertical, which might result in some odd cropping.  We'll see how that goes throughout the season, and I may add in a horizontal design as well.
I'm also going to be making a Highlights subset, probably around 10-15 cards.  I'm still working on finalizing the design for that card, but I'm hoping to find a way to make it stand out from the DocumentaryNOW cards.  Even though they're technically two separate "series" I want to keep things as fresh as possible for my own stake if I'm going to keep this up for 162 games.

For those interested, Pirate DocumentaryNOW cards for the first 12 games are up on Twitter (you can follow the link earlier in the post).  We're still less than 1/10th of the way through the season, but I'm having a lot of fun with the set so far.  

I'd love to hear any thoughts or feedback, and of course it's not too late if any other teams want to jump on the bandwagon!  If you have access to Photoshop and the most minimal skills to change text/photos, I'd be more than happy to help create the card template if anyone is interested in joining in.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Very McCutchen Mailday

Even though the 2018 season is in full swing, it's still a little bit of an adjustment to see Andrew McCutchen not on the field for the Pirates.  Cutch was a fixture on the field, but also sort of carried the spirit of the team.  As I catch up on 2017 cards and the first few releases of 2018, I'm savoring the Cutch cards that come in, knowing they'll be the last releases in black and gold until he inevitably pops up in Archives sets hopefully mans seasons down the road.

I've had a steady stream of packages from bloggers and my team collector pals coming into the mailbox, so much so that I've been having trouble keeping up.

It's been fun seeing what I missed out on while taking a little hobby vacation.

Seeing Topps Gallery make a comeback brings out some mixed feelings.  I typically love art-driven products, and it always seemed a little odd that Gallery *wasn't* an art set in its early years.  Heck, on of my favorite pieces in my collection is the original painting from Jack Wilson's 2002 Gallery card.

 But these cards?  My feelings are split.  I love the clean white borders, which is a nice change of pace from Topps' usual hyper-busy design.  The art though?  Meh.  The McCutchen looks alright, while the Josh Bell leaves a lot to be desired.  I think it's the colored pencils that are making it tough for me to love these cards.  They just don't have the smoothness of a painted set.  The art in Topps' Living Set shows what these cards could have been.
 The package also had an auto of Bucs top prospect Mitch Keller.  Hopefully Keller can rise up the ranks successfully and avoid the Tyler Glasnow fate or imploding in the majors.  This is my first autos of his, so I'm glad to have this one queued up whenever he hits the bigs.
 One of the things I love about our team collector group is the sheer variety of cards that come in.  Some guys are box/blaster/case breakers and will dump the latest releases on you.  Others, like myself, are more likely to resupply for the other teams at a show.  I had a nice stack of inserts and early 00's refractors that I was able to scoop up at the show this weekend to fill out packages for the other teams.

Now it's just a matter of carving out some time to sort through all these cards and start building my 2017 and 2018 binders.

Monday, April 9, 2018

I Went To a Card Show, Just Not the One I Planned

Sometimes the best plans are mistakes.  Or at least that's what I'm going to tell myself.  See, I was at the grocery store a couple months ago when a guy stopped me.  I recognized the face, but couldn't quite place him until he said, "you collect cards, right?" 

He's one of the old school dealers in the area that only rarely sets up at shows, but I've bought off him at shows in the past.  He told me there was a show coming up in April - a small church show right down the street from my house that I've been to before.  April 7th.  My phone was almost dead, but I put it in my calendar.

Weeks rolled by and as we were coming up on this weekend, I realized the show was coming up.  Saturday was looking to be a packed day.  There was the card show and Kate had a roller derby bout.  The game wasn't until 7, but with setting up for the game and some things with ticket sales that she's involved with we were going to need to be out the door around 5pm.  I checked Beckett's show calendar to make sure I was leaving myself enough time for everything.

There it was, April 7th.  But the show was listed at a different venue about 5 minutes further than where I had though it would be.  Not a big deal obviously, and I assumed they had just switched venues.  I hopped in the car and headed over to the show.  It looked pretty unassuming when I walked in.  Maybe 10 dealers, only maybe half of which had anything even worth looking at as I scanned the room.  There was a guy who always has one table with about 20 signed baseballs, all well overpriced.  A video game/NASCAR diecast dealer, and a guy with tables of common Pirates bobbleheads I already have.  So those were easy passes.

But there were enough boxes that there was at least a good chance I'd be there for a few hours.  Oddly I didn't see the dealer who I had run into at the store who told me he was putting on the show.
 I'll be the first to admit that sometimes I buy out of sheer boredom.  I recently eclipsed the 19,000 unique cards mark in my collection.  It's tough to find cards at shows that I don't already have, and I often go in assuming the worst.  But it's usually made a little easier when you have an entire group of other team collectors to pick up cards for.
 The first dealer I walked up to had a decent array of $.25 boxes.  Being out of collecting for almost a year means that a) I had the itch to buy cards and b) my stockpile of nicer stuff to send out to my other team collectors in our group has run pretty low.  I was able to grab some decent cards for the others at a good price, and also snag a few fun inserts for my own binders.
 If you can't find current Pirates, the next best thing is a former Pirate.  And how often can you find a pitcher play at the plate card?

It's no shocker that when you find a seller with a good quarter box, you can usually bet that they'll have solid dime, $.50, $1, or whatever else boxes.  And while I didn't want to spend too much time digging, knowing that Pirates would be few and far between, I was able to dig out some fun cards for my binders.
I found a great run of 90's inserts and higher end base cards.  The Denny's Grand Slam cards were some of my favorites of the era, and about the only reason I would voluntarily eat at a Denny's these days.  I saw on Twitter that Denny's is doing some sort of Star Wars card promo with Topps - $3 for a 2 pack?  Meh.

But if they bring back the holo cards, I'm all in.

I get frustrated with modern cards because it gets tough for me to tell one year from another.  Show me inserts from Heritage or Opening Day and one year easily bleeds into the next.  I love how distinctive 90's cards are, but also how often they jumped through ideas.  Full borderless painted cards with some trippy themes from Fleer, and just a couple years you have some crazy holograms from UD.  The variety is what kept me interested as a collector.  And that's something that just feels like it's missing today.

Most of my pickups were impulse purchases.  I picked up a few Marino cards for my collection, some Steeler dime inserts in addition to the ones above, and some cards from sets I might like to tackle some day like the '93 Diamond Kings insert set.  But overall it was pretty unfocused.

But I didn't spend all my time in dime boxes.  The same seller had some game used and autographs out at 2/$5.  Usually these boxes are a pass for me unless they seem to be pretty high quality, since most of those cards can be found on COMC for half the price.

But as I flipped through the cards, I noticed this base relic from the '06 All Star Game.  I've been working on the game jersey insert from that year here and there since the game was hosted in Pittsburgh, and these base relics are a little tougher to come by.

And with my burning itch to buy, what the heck.  I found a Brandon Phillips autograph for my second card.  When we were living in Ohio, I really gained a new appreciation for Phillips as a player.  I got to meet him at Reds Caravan event and got his Expos 2000 Topps RC signed, so this was a good excuse to add a Reds autograph to my collection.  The Goudey design is great, an on card auto, and maybe best of all the Griffey Says section isn't too distracting or out of place on the card since they're on the same team.
And keeping up the 90's nostalgia, I also plucked an Eric Karros auto for $1 from the same seller.  At one time this would have been a pretty hot card, but not today.

It wasn't a total shutout on the Pirate front.  I did find about half a dozen new cards, including this great Promo version of the 2005 UD Classics card.

As I was wrapping up with the seller, I asked if he is doing any other shows coming up.  He said he has one on the 27th right down the road.  I asked if he knew where exactly it is.  And then he named the church where I THOUGHT the show would be.  Turns out the show was the 27th, not the 7th.  But there were two shows in the same month, 20 days and about 2 miles apart.  Talk about an odd coincidence.  Crazier yet, the other show isn't in Beckett.  So I probably would have missed it if I hadn't gone to the wrong show!

The rest of the tables looked like duds - either nothing worth buying or prices that weren't worth paying.  But I did make a stop at one table where a guy had some binders of autographs.  We got to talking and he is a local autograph hound.

He primarily collects hockey, but also had some baseball autographs.  I told him I'm working on getting autographs of every Pirate player, and as often as possible in a Pirate uniform.  Turns out he's doing the same thing with the Penguins.  I've met some baseball collectors working on similar projects, but never anyone from another sport.

It was fun swapping stories of tough signers or the frustrations of trying to find a photo in uniform of a guy who may have only played a handful of games with the team.  Despite having a small baseball collection, I surprisingly came across two autos I wanted.  Terry Harper has been a toughie for me, and while I have a Doug Mientkiewicz signed 8X10 as a Pirate, I couldn't pass up adding a card.  At $5 the prices were a little steep, but neither are common Pirate autos.

As we were talking, I started flipping through his hockey autographs.

Mixed in with plenty of no-names were some cards that I couldn't pass up. 
 I know some people prefer not to deal with IP autos, and with the number of certified autos out there I can certainly understand that perspective.  But I usually feel comfortable buying autographs, especially when the signatures of lower end guys all check out and there's some provenance.  I felt confident with this guy's autographs that I was willing to take a chance, even if the prices were a little higher than I usually pay for IP autos.
It didn't hurt that another collector I know in passing came up to tell the guy that he a Jerome Bettis auto he had bought from the dealer a few months earlier was certified by PSA before he gave it to his daughter as a birthday gift and that she loved it.

I ended up paying $20 on the 5 autos.  This is my 3rd IP Jagr auto and probably the most confident I am in any of the 3 being real with the backstory.  Jagr has played for so long and his signature is usually so rushed it's tough to be completely confident, but I'm happy with the pickups.

It was a small haul, but I picked up some nice additions to my collection.  I'm hoping at the next show I'll have a little more luck with Pirates and now that the itch to go to a show, any show, has passed I'll be a little more selective in my buying later this month.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


This hobby is a funny thing.  Sometimes it feels like it's standing still, resting on the laurels of ideas that came about ten, twenty, sixty years earlier.  Other times, it speeds by so fast you think somebody hit the fast forward button.

I had been slowly dropping out of blogging when ToppsNOW first started up, but was still actively collecting.  If you'll remember, then-Pirate Francisco Liriano was the first card in the "set."  There wasn't much time to think over whether I cared for the cards or not - I had a couple hours to order or not order the first Pirate card.  Ultimately I decided to pass.  The idea of instantly capturing the biggest moments in the game seemed great.  The price didn't.

I don't regret the decision.  It's a cool novelty, but not worth the price to me.  A similar price can nab me most autographs of Pirate HoF'ers Ralph Kiner or Bill Mazeroski.  I could add some low numbered parallels.  Heck, most 1/1 press plates sell for less these days.  And with many print runs higher than a Topps Gold, I think we'll see a lot of these Topps Now cards popping up in dollar bins at shows in 3-5 years. 

But maybe the biggest driving force is the fact that I have all the tools to make those Topps Now cards myself right within an arm's length.  Literally.  I've been making custom cards for years, and have gotten pretty comfortable.  I have a printer, and have a printing process that produces a card that's actually a thicker stock than the flimsy Topps cards (though I do skip card backs - just personal preference).  Why shell out $10 to Topps when I can make something more memorable and special to me right at home?

When Topps announced their Living Set money grab concept, some conversations started up in the collecting communities I'm in.  In my Team Collector group, we discussed the idea of making our own Living Set.  And on Twitter (@battlinbucs) the a few different collectors and bloggers who make customs started kicking around the idea of doing a Topps NOW style set for our teams.

The conversation kicked in a few different directions - a highlights set, a 40-man type set with highlights, using the Rookies app, printed versus digital cards, and if it was possible to have a common design shared across teams.
Ultimately the conversation sort of petered out.  And apparently everyone went back to their corner of the internet and went to work.

Over the next few days the conversation picked up again.  It turned out that a number of collectors, including myself, had run with the idea.  But we all went in completely different directions.  Be sure to check out Summer of '74 and Matt's (@mjpmke) late 70's inspired set.  Meanwhile Nick ( ) went for a '93 Upper Deck design.

And me? 

 This is what I came up with.  I'm very excited to show off my 2018 DocumentaryNOW cards, based off of the 1960 World Series Highlights subset in '61 Topps.

It made sense to me.  First, the '60 World Series is such an iconic moment for Pirates fans, and the highlights cards are some of my favorite from that era.  Second, I don't print card backs on my customs.  So I was looking for a design that would feature the critical info I wanted - game, score, and memorable moment - without being too busy. 

I found it really cool that each of us picked three very different designs (or in my case, a modified design) from completely different eras of collecting.  Hopefully a couple other custom card makers get on board - it would be a lot of fun to see as many teams as possible represented this season.

I loved the 2008 Documentary set, and initially was trying to build a design that played off that set.  Documentary was the most excited I've been about a card set in ages.  I loved the idea of commemorating each game of a season.

But UD's effort fell well short.  They recycled the same 8 or 10 players and six players through every card in the set.  And the "highlight" sounded a lot more like a random piece of info picked from a box score.  When you have thousands of cards to design, it's not a shocker.  But I wanted to capture everything I hoped Documentary would be in a set - photos from each unique game and flavor text that included something memorable. 
I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to keep this up for a full season.  I'll be posting the set daily (or close to it) on Twitter with the hashtag #DocumentaryNOW and hopefully some occasional updates on the blog.  I hope you'll check out the awesome work myself and other collectors are putting together throughout the season.

Oh, and remember how I said the idea of doing a 40-man style set was kicked around as well?  Check back in the next few days.  I may be working on something on that front as well that's a little less retro-inspired.